Portland, Oregon is already a well-established musical Mecca, a veritable ocean of talented bands vying for the attention and affection of a local and national audience. One of those bands is WEINLAND, the folk-rock project led by singer-songwriter Adam Shearer (who was born John Adam Weinland Shearer). Between 2006 and mid-2009, the outfit released four full-length LPs, carving out a fervent local fanbase that included Portland royalty like The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy.
Following 2009′s Breaks In The Sun, Shearer focused on other musical endeavors, most notably guesting with the Portland Cello Project and the Alialujah Choir. But after a three-year break, Shearer returns to his namesake ensemble for the release of WEINLAND’s fifth studio album, Los Processaur, out November 6th via Woodphone Records/Jealous Butcher Records.
Despite potentially damaging whatever buzz they built, the time-off gave the band space to grow, doing so by embracing the power of collaboration and using the bonds afforded to them as denizens of the Beaver State. Shearer and company spent much of the last two years touring with the likes of The Decemberists, Blitzen Trapper, and other Oregonians. Back home, they kept the team-orientated energy of the road going, recording the LP in chunks at Type Foundry Studios with an impressive list of guests: Scott McPherson (M.Ward, Elliott Smith), Rachel Blumberg (Norfolk & Western, The Decemberists), and Justin Power (Death Songs). The end result, according to a press release, is an “album from a tried and true blue collar independent band that has been busting ass in the middle of the music industry for half a decade.”
For an idea as to just how this new level of collaboration benefited WEINLAND’s sound, the outfit has released the album track “Another Dollar Rainy Day”. On the surface, the little ditty is forged along the same folky sensibilities of The Decemberists and even mid-’70s Neil Young, with jangly acoustic guitar, pub rock-ready piano, and high-energy group harmonies. But under the effervescent exterior lies depth and complexity, exemplified by the morose piano solo and Shearer’s call-and-respond-with-a-twist vocals.
To coincide with the premiere, CoS spoke with Shearer about the band’s growing influences, the album’s inception and recording, the band’s stage show and touring, living and working in Portland, and his fondness for Wilco. You can read the full conversation below.
For some of the more uninitiated, how would you describe Weinland as a band? Is there a particular genre tag or classification that works best? I get a very blue collar, middle of the road sort of vibe.
I would describe WEINLAND as a traditional rock and roll band. We’re more akin to the bands of yesteryear, like the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, etc, in the fact that we don’t play a specific type of rock music. We play loud songs, quiet songs, folk songs, quirky songs, ballads, and epics. Everything we do is about serving the story and the emotion and none of it is about being what we’re supposed to be or what might be expected. I’m not saying we are “out there” I’m just saying we’re sincere to where we are today and from day to day that changes. Nothing about being sincere is middle of the road. We should all aim to be honest first. We can all play our instruments well, but we’ll take meaningful over skillful any day. More specifically, WEINLAND is a five piece band from Portland, Oregon built around songwriting. We incorporate a lot of instrumentation as well. All the tradition stuff is there, drums, piano, acoustic and electric guitars, bass… but we also throw in dobro, mandolin, accordion, strings, glockenspiel, theremin, and four part harmonies.
There’s definitely influences of everyone from Neil Young to Colin Meloy in the band’s catalog. Who else helped shape the core of the band’s sound?
As far as nationally recognizable influences, WEINLAND has also taken cues from Wilco, Radiohead, The Beatles, Elvis Costello, Jose Gonzalez, The Rolling Stones, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, etc. Just like any group that appreciates songwriting, we’re astute listeners and what we hear affects and stays with us. We have probably been more directly influenced by Portland bands and songwriters, such as The Decemberists, M.Ward, Norfolk and Western, Blitzen Trapper, etc. These are bands we see live and sometimes play with and we really admire them — it’s impossible for them not to have their impact. Adam Selzer (M.Ward and Norfolk and Western) has undoubtably had the largest impact on our sound. He’s worked with us as a co-producer on every album we’ve made and has led the band in a direction where we take chances, we don’t over-polish, and we embrace the scrapes.
You said you wrote most of the new album “sitting at a kick drum pounding out the beat.” What’s the process like going from you alone to collaborating with some of Portland’s finest (McPherson, Blumberg, etc.)? Is it a new experience to be working with as many bigger names, all with their own important ideas to contribute?
I wrote a lot of the songs sitting at the kick drum for two reasons. First, I wanted to make a record that would be fun to play live; I wanted a live feel to be involved in the writing process. Sitting there having the drum pounding injected energy into what was happening. The tracks “Saints and Sinners” and “Holy Rose” are perfect examples. In the end, we kept the pounding kick drum in those songs, even after adding other percussion and actual percussionists. And second, because our drummer, Ian Lyles, was on tour as a lighting director for Broken Social Scene. He’s very skilled and is in high demand, so sometimes you can’t write with the whole group. After the bones of the songs were written the rest of the group made their mark. None of the songs would sound the way they do without each member arranging their own parts and putting their ideas to use. For example, we changed “Not So Unlike You” on the spot because Scott McPherson had such a great idea with the drum beat. We really wanted him to be able to finish his phrase before the chorus started, so we added a measure to make sure the song benefited from his inspiration as well.
How did you get involved with some of the album’s collaborators? Did they come to you? Or did you “recruit” them?
Everyone who played on Los Processaur is a friend to the band. The way we work is very collaborative and intimate, so we needed people to be able to fit in with our world beyond the music level. We knew we would need some extra help on the percussion so we put the feelers out to some of the great drummers we’ve played with in the past and we were lucky to not only get them involved, but have them become an exciting part of the creative process. The others who joined, such as the guest vocals from Alialujah Choir, are long time members of our community and process. We’ve all shared the stage on many occasions, so the collaboration was an easy choice.
Portland is notorious for being a premiere musical destination. What is it like working in the scene, trying to make a name for yourself among so many other bands? Or, does it help make you that much more talented of a musician?
Without question Portland has a high bar for its music scene. Not only is there literally hundreds of bands, many of them are exceptional. And we’re lucky enough that the Portland community really supports its local scene. So we all get to test our music and build our chops playing in front of full houses of enthusiastic fans. It’s a marvelous incubator. The result is that you have the chance to test, test again, and succeed. As far as making a name for yourself goes, you just have to stay hungry. There are new amazing bands forming here constantly. If you want people to come to your shows and buy your records you really have to get out there and earn it. I’m sure that’s true in every city. My only comparison is the small town in Montana I grew up in where there were only a few bands and we could easily sell 500 tickets to every show because there wasn’t much else going on. There are good shows in Portland 7 nights a week. You need to do good work to be noticed, but its also a small enough city that you can get noticed for your effort.
This is the first WEINLAND record since 2009. While there’s reportedly no grand backstory regarding is creation, how do you think it fits in terms of the context of the rest of the catalog? Is there anything new, is it all the same sort of emotional content and recording process? Also, why “return” to the moniker now (despite being perpetually busy with other projects)?
Los Processaur is the next logical step for WEINLAND. When we were writing La Lamentor and Breaks In The Sun we were just getting started with touring and being in front of a live audience. The songs were almost entirely affected by our experiences outside of music. Pieces were frequently written in bedrooms and on quiet nights. Now, after being actual touring musicians, there has been more a flip. Now playing music has a greater impact on our outside lives. The music is now as much influenced by playing music as it is by the relationships in our “normal” lives. This album has that feel and reflects our experiences after being on the road for months at a time. The work is still personal, and the stories are the same, but now they have new characters, different twists, and more experience to draw from. It took us a long time to get this record out simply because we wanted to do it our way and at our own pace. We took our time with it. We wanted to do it ourselves and that took extra time. We all dabbled a bit in other projects and those projects also dabbled in WEINLAND. I’ve been asked 100 times since 2009 when the next WEINLAND record will happen, or the next tour, and I find myself always saying, the reason I don’t do this [music business] the right way is because I don’t believe there is a right way anymore. It’s too unpredictable. Lets just make good work and who cares what happens next. In a way I think I’ve finally found peace with that.
What can you tell us about the song we’re premiering, “Another Dollar Rainy Day”? Any interesting and/or funny backstories? Anything worth noting about its content or overall emotional aim?
“Another Dollar Rainy Day” started as a sort of tongue-in-cheek song about working to make it as a songwriter/band. You have to be away from the ones you love all the time. It starts with a statement that might be said to me, “I hope you’re well, with you it’s all right, hard for me to tell. I hear that you’re… always busy, always working, always fine.” When you’re touring and rehearsing you miss people, you miss all the barbecues, weddings, birthdays, parties, etc. When people check in with you they want to hear about the excitement, but you’re working all the time… sometimes its hard to tell if its worth it. But then the retort is, “I wanna give it a try” and you’re speaking to the people who think it may not be worth it, “To prove you wrong.” Basically saying, “I gotta give it a go.” That’s the only way to be sure. That’s the only way to be content. You can decipher the rest of the lyrics from there I’m sure. This is a song that I started writing while on the road, so it’s very influenced by that world. It’s hard work man, but the dream is alive and well!
How important is the live show to the band? Do you consider this more of a live band or a record band? Can you ever really recreate the live show on CD/vinyl/mp3?
I think it would be impossible to perfectly capture the live energy of a show. Even with a live album. There are just so many sensations that go along with seeing a band in concert. In the past we have sometimes been criticized for offering up very mellow, and at times melancholy, albums and then performing like it’s a party. This never bothered me as a potential audience member but I can see where people are coming from. They’d go to a show and see the band and get the energy, then go home and listen to a very introspective recording. The opposite would happen as well, people would love the way the album sounds and then see the live show standing in a club with an energetic band in front of them. Sometimes the subtly is lost in that environment. If I had to choose being in a band that only played live or a band that only recorded records, I would choose the band that makes records. That said, if I can be in a band that does both I will entertain the idea of balance and I think we’ve found that balance on Los Processaur.
You’ve played shows with The Decemberists, Blitzen Trapper, Fruit Bats, and Langhorne Slim. What have you learned from sharing a stage with these acts? Anyone other dream acts you’d like to tour with?
Oh man, the list of bands we’d like to play with is unending. I think if I had to pick one right now I would pick Wilco. Their songwriting moves me to the core. Then add in the fact that they are among the most amazing musicians of our day and put on such an excellent show, I think we could learn bibles of knowledge from being on the road with a band of that caliber. What have we learned from getting to support the bands we have? Heaps. The Decemberists and Langhorne Slim are amazing performers and songwriters. Every second is a part of the show. Remember kids, play every show you ever play like you mean it. It doesn’t matter if there are 50 people there or 5000. People will remember you for your performance and not for your draw. Playing with bands like Blitzen Trapper and the Fruit Bats is like a lesson in musicianship. They are incredible bands that you can still see in intimate settings. You can watch and learn and respect all the while. I sure wouldn’t mind taking a few songwriting tips from either.
Anything else about yourself or the album you think people, potential listeners, should know?
My favorite records have always been the ones that take some time. Wilco is one of my favorite bands of all times, but when I first heard Sky Blue Sky I didn’t get it. After listening to on repeat for about 10 listens it started to push my mind open. I started to understand the subtleties and the decisions. It’s a brilliant album. Records like that last and retain a timelessness. WEINLAND is attempting to make records that last. That means they won’t always feel immediate for everyone and because we’re a small band barely on the radar not everyone will give the record the time it needs. Take the time, give it a dozen spins, we think it will be worth your while.